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For the slicing-impaired, mandolines are a godsend. These small gadgets resemble the large slicers used at deli counters, except you use them for vegetables. Most come with several different interchangeable blades, allowing the user to quickly create perfect slices, juliennes, and rings in any thickness. However, using a mandoline carelessly can easily cause julienned fingers, so be careful.
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A food mill manages the consistency of soft foods, like sauces. Sometimes called a ricer, it removes lumps from mashed potatoes and applesauce and separates the seeds and skins from cooked tomatoes, and is an essential ingredient for any puréed item, like baby food. The food mill features a hand crank and a colanderlike sieve at the bottom of the bowl that filters the food while catching the odd bits.
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These handy gadgets aren’t just for professional pastry chefs; they’re also useful for home cooks in cutting biscuits and cookies, crimping piecrusts, and cutting fresh pasta. No more using broken-down pizza cutters, attempting to flute piecrusts by hand, or using old aluminum cans as biscuit cutters!
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Just because you don’t regularly serve tiny balls of cantaloupe doesn’t mean a melon baller won’t come in handy. These tools can create perfect orbs of butter for dinners, hollow out the inside of cherry tomatoes, remove the core and seeds from apples and pears, and get rid of pulp, seeds, or strings from squash, cucumbers, kiwi, and papaya.
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If you have kids who like their food to come in fun shapes, a crinkle cutter can vastly increase their vegetable intake. It cuts vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, pickles, zucchini, and squash into restaurant-style crinkle shapes, and can even make waffle-cut french fries.
Photo: Brix Design
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When recipes call for lemon, lime, or orange zest, a few swipes with the small holes at the top of a citrus zester will produce a finely grated product. This tool is essential for bartenders or anyone who hosts cocktail parties, because the zester’s large single blade is used for creating large strips of rind to make the “twists” commonly found in cosmopolitans and martinis.
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The worst part of strawberry season is amassing a giant pile of berries to turn into shortcake or fruit salad, and having to slice and remove the hull from each one by hand. A strawberry huller slices off the stem and removes the tough hull in one fell swoop, allowing you to make beautiful berries without sacrificing half the fruit or taking twice the time you need to.
All Sorts of Slicers
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How can a task as simple as slicing sometimes feel so difficult? Luckily, there are easier ways to slice a hard-boiled egg for a salad, slice a tomato for a sandwich, dislodge an avocado from its skin, or carve up a pineapple. These gadgets create perfectly uniform slices with no mess.
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Few things bring tears (literal and figurative) to my eyes as quickly as a recipe containing the phrase “finely chopped onion.” With a chopping gadget, a cook can just put the onion (or any other vegetable) on the cutting board under the dome, and chop, dice, and mince to perfection.
Helpful, But Not Necessary
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Sure, there are ways to perform these tasks without an arsenal of specialized gadgets—professional chefs can accomplish them with a single knife. But I’m not a professional chef, and neither are most people, so who are we to stifle the march of culinary progress? These gadgets help turn ordinary food into food that looks just like what the pros cook. How you prepare it, on the other hand, is up to you.